Some of the most courageous Christian nonviolent direct action in recent history is happening in relationship to the escalating crisis in Zimbabwe. To protest how President Robert Mugabe’s “brutal” political oppression and economic mismanagement has “taken people’s identity and literally cut it to pieces,” Archbishop of York John Sentamu, a Ugandan and the Church of England’s second most senior clergy, recently cut up his clerical collar on live television, refusing to wear it until Mugabe is out of office.
In Zimbabwe, the “wail of suffering and the stench of death are evidence enough of the failures of a corrupt and brutal regime, bent on staying in power at all costs,” according to Sentamu. “Zimbabwe has the highest proportion of orphans in the world (1.3 million), largely due to the devastation caused by HIV and AIDS and their related illnesses, which kill 3,200 people each week. Then there are the needless deaths that occur because most of the doctors have fled a health system in ruins. Most have no transport to get to hospital, or, in the unlikely event that they reach one, money to pay bills. Added to all of this is hunger and malnutrition. It is no accident that the average life expectancy of Zimbabweans hovers around 35, lower than any war zone.”
The situation in Zimbabwe is nothing less than a civil war of a government against its own people. While President Mugabe has often been perceived as a hero in the story of Zimbabwe’s decolonization and has billed his attempts to redistribute white-owned farms as post-colonial justice, it has become clear to many African observers that the redistribution of Zimbabwe’s resources has all been directed toward Mugabe’s well-armed elite. Sentamu reports that, in Zimbabwe, “people don’t know where their next meals are going to come from. But of course, Mugabe and his clique are living wonderfully.”